Fan-favorites from Season 18 hit the "Idol" stage for the first time, thanks to Covid restrictions last year, to compete for one chance to join this season's Top 10 -- Plus, Harry Connick Jr. and Lauren Daigle perform.
It was a deca-dose of déjà vu on “American Idol” as ten familiar faces from last season took to the stage to compete for a spot in the Top 10 for this season.
While the freshly-minted Top 9 enjoyed the beginning of a very long break -- the show is off entirely next week -- these ten singers took to the “Idol” stage for the very first time ever to show us a whole new side of them.
Their experience was cut short last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a transition to “Idol at Home,” where the show stayed for the remainder of Season 18, so they never got the full experience of what it is to perform at this level.
In that regard, it was exciting to anticipate which of them would step up and really thrive under the studio lights and in front of that live audience, and who would prove that they were maybe at their best in their living rooms, garages and front porches.
It’s an interesting thing to look back at people a year out from their “Idol” experience to see if and how the show has changed them as artists. Or not changed them at all, in a few cases.
We found ourselves a little disappointed in a few of our favorites from last season who either took a risk they shouldn’t have or just didn’t live up to the potential we saw just one year ago. Others, though, underwent a transformation that made them almost unrecognizable in the best ways possible.
Rounding out the night, as if ten performances wasn’t enough, were special performances by former judge Harry Connick Jr. and former contestant who never made it past the Top 24, Lauren Daigle. She’s one of so many examples of artists who’ve found their way into the industry in a major way despite not having the success they wanted on “Idol.”
Will any of these artists follow suit? And which one deserves that tenth and final spot in this season’s Top 10?
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are, and then see how well they do as the season progresses.
(“Alone with My Faith” / “Old Time Religion”) Harry certainly showed off the diversity of his talent, playing a medley of instruments as he performed a medley of songs (well, two of ‘em) from the album he wrote, produced and created in quarantine. After he performed, he shared that he’d played 30 different instruments during the making of the album, which is pretty wild. We weren’t totally blown away by the delivery of either of his songs here tonight, but the feat alone is pretty impressive.
(“Look Up Child”) When we weren’t mesmerized by Lauren’s entire ensemble -- and those shoes, in particular -- we were mesmerized by her joyful vocal performance. She has such an inviting and accessible presence and then the tone in her voice seems to welcome you into her world with such warmth and love. It’s a special and rare gift not shared by many artists, and it definitely puts her in a lane all her own, not just in the world of Christian music, but in all music. She’s proof that you don’t need to succeed on “Idol” to find success, just be true and never give up.
(“Edge of Midnight,” Miley Cyrus & Stevie Nicks - 18, Atlanta, GA [Top 20]) You only have one chance to dazzle an audience who may not intimately remember what you did a year ago on this show. Cyniah certainly came out guns blazing, but vocally this wasn’t where she needed it to be. She was “pitchy” in a lot of places, creating what looked like a very energetic but amateurish karaoke performance. That’s not gonna do it. She’s fun, but not nearly good enough..
(“City Lights,” Nick Merico - 25, Woodland Hills, CA [Top 20]) This song was a little overwrought and really lacking in sincerity. On top of that, the choreography felt way too calculated and he was clearly thinking about it too much, getting in the way of any sincerity in his delivery. The song had a lot of energy and it certainly showed us who he is, but we didn’t get the sense that he’s a world-class vocalist, or that he’s someone interesting or exciting enough that we want him back this season.
(“Meant to Live,” Switchfoot - 29, Durham, NC [Top 20]) Franklin had a gentle intimacy about his performances last season that were absolutely mesmerizing. While it was fun to see him rocking out, it also created an unexpected disconnect. We expected him to be one of our favorites, but we’re not sure we quite felt this performance as much as we wanted to. He still sounds great, but the song didn’t do much to make him sound undeniable. Instead, this was like a great local band rocking the bar, but then you go home.
(“Voice of God,” Dante Bowe f. Steffany Gretzinger & Chandler Moore - 24, Colorado Spring, CO [Top 20]) How is it that DeWayne sang a gospel song about the voice of God and it took him until halfway through the song to really give us all of his own voice lifted up in praise. He’s got a powerful instrument with a lovely tone that’s well-suited for gospel, but there’s a richness to the texture of pure gospel vocalists like this one that he just wasn’t giving us with this performance. It feels like he wasn’t fully into his diaphragm on this delivery, and it really called for everything.
(“Cry Baby,” Janis Joplin - 21, Destrehan, LA [Top 20]) Faith was a little over-cocky and overconfident last season, tackling this song the first day she’d ever heard it. So she was going for a literal redemption taking it on again, and it was a much stronger rendition -- she’s probably been working on mastering this all year. We’d have liked a little more cry in her voice, ironically, to feel the pain that Janis put into her version, and that believable emotional connection we know Faith is capable of. This felt a little disconnected. Still strong, but a little more put on than felt.
(“Say Yes,” Michelle Williams f. Beyoncé & Kelly Rowland - 17, Menifee, CA [Top 20]) Olivia was always too big of a stage presence and personality to ever work in the “at home” environment. She’s as much a performer as she is a vocalist, so this was really her best chance to show who she was. Interestingly, we got one of her most exciting vocals, but we were really hoping for more from that dance break. She definitely thrives more in this environment. We only heard two flat notes in the whole performance, and they were very minor. For the most part, she soared right as she needed to. It didn’t feel quite as connected to the lyric as we would have liked, as if she was thinking a little too much about the whole performance, but it proves she is so much better than she was given credit for all last season.
(“Iris,” Goo Goo Dolls - 23, Wichita, KS [2nd Place]) This song didn’t quite have the variance needed to really show off what makes Arthur such a special artist, but there was enough there that we again fell in love with his unique grit and delivery. He absolutely knows who he is as an artist, and we kind of love that he only added a cello when offered the chance to perform with a full band. This honestly seemed like it might have been Arthur’s to lose on paper, as last season’s runner-up, but we’re not sure this had enough excitement or memorable moments. For overall potential, he still might be the best choice, but was this it?
(“I’ll Never Love Again,” Lady Gaga [from “A Star Is Born”] - 19, Tampa, FL [Top 20]) Almost unrecognizable in every way, this is a whole new Aliana. She’s come into her confidence, finally standing up there and owning what was always an incredible instrument. She’s still not quite all the way there, but this is easily her best performance by a mile. There was passion and grace in her full voice and in her softer moments. It was all compelling, even in its imperfections as she did miss a note here and there. She was so watchable from top to bottom.
(“Maybe That,” Louis Knight - 20, Philadelphia, PA [Top 7]) Louis got back to what made us fall in love with him in the first place, delivering a heartfelt original song about loss and pain. There’s a cry in his voice that’s so palpable, when it cracks, you find a tear forming in the corner of your eye as if he magicked it there with his voice. That’s a beautiful gift to have. He’s a rare and authentic artist who’s ready made for the radio, for selling records and selling out stadiums. All the tools are there, and if this show isn’t his avenue, it’s hard to imagine him not finding his way anyway. But that might have been enough.
(“Anyone,” Demi Lovato - 18, Temecula CA [Top 11]) This is easily one of the most heartbreaking and moving songs ever written, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine matching what Demi did with it on the Grammys stage. But Makayla turned it into a clear competition piece without losing any of that emotional resonance. She reined in the first chorus and let loose on the second one. Most importantly, she felt every emotional beat of it and was able to project that through the television screens. It’s a testament to her artistry and an incredible voice that she was even able to wrangle this song, much less make it as powerful as this was.
Voting is open for a whole week after this one, which is pretty wild in itself. It means people will have time to marinate on their choices. Then we’ll have to wait yet another week to find out who won, as “Idol” takes next week off entirely for the Oscars and a 50th anniversary “Sesame Street” special.
With all that time to deliberate and really think this through, people might even take the time to reminisce about these artist’s journeys from last season. If they do, that could be great news for Arthur, who was mesmerizing every time last season, but really didn’t live up to his own hype tonight.
That left room for Makayla to really step into her own, while Louis continued to make a strong case for why he was such a favorite last season. For us, it might just come down to these two vying for the spot. From there, it’s going to be about who connected more with the audience.
As the night began, we were a little worried as we weren’t loving all the performers, but it definitely picked up. Aliana was a huge surprise early on, as her transformation from awkward teen to stage-owning diva was so fast and complete. She made a strong case for herself with that performance.
The other big surprise was Olivia, who had wowed us in Hawaii last year, but then never really did again. This is where she’s meant to be. But while it was exciting to see her in her element again, and we do believe she could have a future doing this, we just don’t think this is her year.
Makayla channeled a magical and emotional moment, and tears always connect with audiences. Louis, meanwhile, is the total package, as Bobby put it. Not only is he incredibly talented as a singer, songwriter and artist, he’s got that beautiful cry in his voice and he’s pretty easy on the eyes, too.
Ultimately, we’re absolutely torn between whether or not Makayla or Louis is going to slide in there and secure that spot in this season’s Top 10. But because we’ve decided we have to make a choice, we’re going to pick … damn, this is hard! … Louis.
We think he’s more of a total package artist for viewers, and he had a bigger following last season than she did. Maybe they’ll throw a Wild Card in and we’ll get them both.
Now we get to wait two weeks to see if we’re right. If we wind up being wrong, maybe you’ll forget by then what we predicted.
”American Idol” returns on May 2nd to its regular time slots on Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.